A few months ago, I got married. And then went on my first trip across the world sans parents. Admittedly, I was nervous about this. Ryan and I can both be a bit bohemian on the travel front and, though we had planned and scheduled reservations, we weren’t 110% everything would work out. In fact, I was afraid we wouldn’t be able to get from point A to B back to A to C. But with a little luck and a few extra minutes, our honeymoon in Italy was (nearly) flawless.
We traveled from Naples (where our plane landed) to Praiano (around the Amalfi Coast) back through Sorrento to Naples to Bologna to Venice. If it sounds like a lot, it was. But we did it! And I wanted to (finally) share with you a few of the places we visited and stayed at, as well as some tips if you are ever flying internationally (for your first time or otherwise) in the next few months.
When we booked tickets, it was probably about three or so months out. There’s a lot of debate around this, but we somewhat intentionally waited awhile since a lot of sites recommended buying tickets about 54 or so days out. I even marked the day in my planner, so I would’t book too early or too late!
After flights were booked, we got to planning. We were originally going to hire a travel agent, since that’s what a lot of other couples were doing, but Ryan chanced it by making lodging reservations through airbnb. This worked out REALLY well for us. Not only did we feel more immersed in the culture, we saved a pretty penny doing the booking on our own, and booking people’s apartments vs. expensive tourist hotels.
Our flight took off mid-afternoon, which was a blessing. It’s recommended you get to your airport about 3 hours before takeoff, for international flights. But Ryan and I are freaks, so we probably left our apartment even earlier.
We flew through O’Hare, which was actually pretty pleasant since we were in the international “area” and didn’t have to deal with too much congestion. We had some wine, hummus and pita bread at a bar and exchanged some money. I don’t recommend exchanging too much money in the U.S. because we think we got ripped off a bit. However, it was very nice to enter the country with their currency. So I definitely recommend carrying at least $100-$200 equivalency into the country (if not more, if you’re more comfortable with the exchange rate).
I also learned a trick from a friend (after our honeymoon ended) to find a local bank and, as long as you know what you’re supposed to get back, they will do an exact exchange–no fees.
If you have a connecting flight, as we did in Paris, account for the time it will take you to get through customs–both going there and coming back. Both times, whether we were in Italy or another country, we had to get our passports checked. The lines were horrible. The people were all angry in a hundred different languages. It took forever. In fact, Paris’ line was so ugly, people were yelling at the poor airport lady and most everyone was missing their flight. We thought we were for sure going to miss ours, but by some luck–we were the second to last people to board and they took off about 10 minutes after we sat down.
Once we got off the plane, we went to a desk to get information on buying bus tickets. All the locals were really helpful and even put us ahead of them in line, so they could help us figure out this Italian parking/bus ticket dispenser thing.
We caught a local bus at the Naples airport that took us to Sorrento, a popular, touristy town around the Amalfi Coast. It was recommended we stay in Sorrento, since it is more touristy and can make exploring a little easier (more people probably speak English, and a lot of the shops were close together). But we wanted to get away from the tourist experience and have a more local experience. So after the bus to Sorrento, we got onto another, more local bus that traveled around the different towns. We got off at our stop, though you can also press “STOP” and the bus will stop and drop you off, and we were ready to get settled for the next 10 days!
The first place we stayed (here) was okay, but their restaurant was better. The rooms were a bit musty and didn’t feel completely clean, but for the one night we were there–it worked!
The second, and main, bed and breakfast we stayed at was amazing: La Maurella. We booked through airbnb–and Rosella was very helpful and communicative when planning–but they also have a website you can book through.
I’m sure there are other, fancier places throughout the coast, but this was perfect for us. The exterior was a white-washed, beach vibe and the rooms were beautiful–all white, with soft, patterned bedding. A modern bathroom, with a glass bowl sink, walk in shower and all the bells and whistles accessories (hair dryer etc.). We controlled the temperature of the room (a major bonus at night). They had hundreds of channels on TV (half of them in English), which really came in handy when we were up till about 2AM every night, adjusting to the time difference. But probably the best feature: the two doors that opened up to reveal a private, grassy patio that overlooked the ocean. We bought a lighter to light the candles and it was our own private zen garden.
We would set our alarms to wake up around 9AM. Complimentary breakfast usually lasted until about 10AM and we were, without fail, always the last two people to get breakfast every morning (there are 5 rooms, total, in the bed and breakfast). But we had to get ready for breakfast, it was too delicious–rolls, thinly sliced meats, fresh cheeses, yogurt, boiled eggs, fruit, brioche rustico (a type of bread that I will be sharing on the blog soon!), and a few other sweets. SO good.
After breakfast, we would go back to our rooms and sleep until about 1PM. This was perfect, since most everything in Italy shuts down between 1-3:30PM. So we would throw on our bathing suits and head to the beach. We would sunbath, lounge and read, or go swimming until about 3:30PM.
We would then head back to our room, shower and lounge around—reading, watching TV, playing cards, writing or surfing the web (did I mention we had our own wifi!? And yes, it was fast).
We would also snack on things we purchased from the grocery store—bread, fresh meats and mozzarella (stored in the mini-fridge), some junk food, candies, wine and beer.
Around 8PM we would get ready and head to dinner. Most places start dinner at 7PM, but don’t start getting busy until 9PM. In fact, the few times we showed up to a restaurant at 7PM, we got odd looks, like “You want to eat dinner now?”
No matter where you go in Italy, the food is delicious, but I’ll share a few of our favorite restaurants in Praiano (not that there were too many restaurants to choose from). Side note: most restaurants were also hotels. Guess that’s a bonus.
Onde Verde: We saved this one for our last night because it was the most expensive. Also, the views were insane (not that the views were bad at any of our restaurants). We were practically on a cliff overlooking the entire ocean. I even saw a shooting star that was so close, the tail was red! Insane. The food was good, but not memorable, I’ll say that much.
Hotel Locanda Costa Diva: This was the hotel/restaurant we stayed at for one night. The staff was always awesome, but the restaurant? Oh my gosh. HEAVEN. There were literally lemons hanging from vines above your head. This was also the only restaurant (our first one) where we ordered one of every course and unknowingly, and generously, tipped our waiter. The lemon risotto was amazing (made better by the fact the lemons were literally hanging over me) and the gnocchi was…speechless. And of course the wine was delicious (and made in Italy). Just all, so good. We were also on a candle-lit patio overlooking the ocean. If you ever visit, you’ll know this place because they always have a guy standing out at the corner, trying to get people into the restaurant. But don’t let that deter you! The food and service are very good.
Risotrante il Pirate: We sat outside for this meal (how could we not!? The views, again, were insane). But the interior of this restaurant/bar was also so cool–it looked like it was carved out of rock. I don’t remember much from this restaurant (in my defense, a lot of the menus were very similar), but I do remember I loved their dessert!
Alfonso a Mare: We had a little post-swim snack here and it was okay. Seemed like most people ordered beer or snacks here, and continued sunbathing or swimming. Also didn’t seem like a huge dinner spot, even though I swear we saw a DJ setting up one night!
Trattoria Da Armandino: This was our favorite restaurant in Praiano, by far. I can’t quite remember what Ryan had, but he was enjoying it A LOT. I had lemon risotto (I can’t help it! I love risotto) in a cheese bowl and..holy shit. Just, too good. The wine was pouring like crazy, we were right by the cove (where we would go swimming) with the moon bright. And this place was popular. They take reservations, otherwise get there early! There are only so many tables and, while service wasn’t as good as some other places, the food was dreamy.
A few tips:
- There are first, second and third courses in Italy. You don’t have to eat all three, but they are there.
- You will be charged for water. Also, make sure it’s natural (regular) water and not “gas” water (carbonated).
- It’s not customary to tip in Italy. You can, if you have amazing service, but generally no one tips. In fact, a “service charge” (which is usually mentioned on the menu or your receipt) accounts for the lack of tip.
- If you are finished with dinner, call your waiter over and ask him for the bill. Otherwise, he will not offer it and you may end up sitting there, waiting forever.
The only downside of being in a remote town is the accessibility. We were craving gelato and there weren’t many gelato shops around. So, we had to take a walk through a tunnel to a neighboring town. It was about a 25 min walk, so not bad, but not close. Same goes for a regular Italian pizza–we literally hiked through a torentual and sudden downpour of rain to get this pizza. By the time we arrived, we were so soaked and looked so odd, even the pizza chefs stepped out from behind their counters to get a good look at the crazy Americans.
We also purchased a few ceramic pieces to bring home to our parents. For being handmade and hand-painted, they were relatively cheap! Plus, we figure, these are the best sort of gifts to take home. Not the kitschy, plastic crap. The memorable, thoughtful things.
The artist–Liz (of Liz Art)–was too sweet and even threw in a ceramic magnet for us when she learned we were on our honeymoon.
Before catching a bus back to Naples, I snapped a photo of those motorcycles–forgotten and frozen forever in vines. I thought it seemed to best reflect the slower pace of Italy.
Venice was also beautiful and we were wowed the second we exited the train station. If Amalfi was a postcard, Venice is a painting. Everything looked like it was constructed with a painter’s eye, using a painter’s palette.
We decided not to do a gondola ride because once you take the water taxi, you’re good. Or at least, that’s how we felt. We also didn’t want to shell out 80 Euro for a dude to hang out with us for 30 minutes on a small boat, while we took selfies.
We went to St. Peter’s Square when it was flooded (interesting) and then came back again to check it out. Ryan and I aren’t huge into tourist shops, so we kind of…weren’t as impressed as normal people would be, I suppose.
We also stayed at another airbnb in Italy, which we preferred. It felt like we were just locals. Though we missed having wifi. And the bedroom was a bit musty. Our Praiano place spoiled us. In fact, wifi is kind of a big deal in Venice. A lot of restaurants and cafes advertise “Wifi Free” to entice customers into eating and bumming off their wifi. Some of the cafes even gave wifi passwords with time restrictions. Guess they know they’re audience.
Serra dei Giardini: Sadly, we found this on our last day–when the place was holding an event–but we wish we would’ve found it sooner. It’s a greenhouse (you can buy little plants!) and cafe/bar, where you can sit out on the lawn, drinking wine and talking. Plus, getting there was picturesque in itself, since it’s nestled in the only park we found in Venice.
I can’t remember the cafe we went to every morning, but I recommend finding a good cafe close by. Italians know how to make an amazing cappuccino.
Venchi: The pinnacle of gelato. There were little gelato shops everywhere (LOVED), but this was the best of the best.
Dal Moro’s: One of those unique, hole-in-the-wall places. You go in, order what type of homemade pasta you want, with what type of homemade sauces or add-ins, and you wait around until your order is ready. They give it to you in a Chinese takeout box and you’re told to eat it right away. To me, with the exception of the Chinese box, this felt like the quintessential Italian experience–roaming around eating homemade pasta (for the record, I got pesto sauce with angel hair pasta).
Pizza is also everywhere. It’s funny how each place makes it a bit different. I couldn’t really recommend one place in particular, but have to say–when you’re here, try the pizza everywhere you go!
They also have these little sandwiches you can get from shops all over Venice. You order them and they heat them up (like a WAY better Subway). If you get them to go, you pay less. If you sit in the restaurant and eat the sandwiches, you pay more. For the same, exact sandwich. Yes, it’s weird. But holy moly, those sandwiches are awesome. I think it’s in the bread.
Another note: Places in Venice close down by 7:30PM. Not so much the restaurants, but all the cafes, shops and local places will close–making the city eerily quiet and dark. Ryan and I were back in our place by around 8PM every night because of this. Thank God for pre-downloaded movies, amiright!?
We, again, went with an airbnb place. It was quite the experience–the host’s mother drove us to the airport and showed us around the neighborhood–and the place, itself, was interesting to get to and a very gorgeous loft. The neighborhood wasn’t too interesting, but we were mainly excited about the wifi anyway (something that was advertised on airbnb). However, once we got settled in, we realized the wifi was so slow, even our phones couldn’t load the Internet. Womp, womp.
We were just exhausted.
Plus, some random parade was going on in the streets (it was a Sunday night…which was odd to us). Then fireworks were being shot off on a lawn (for a second we thought they were gun shots and ducked), right by the roads. Basically, next time, we would pass on Naples. Really, the only reason we stayed the night was so we wouldn’t have to deal with a 24 hour layover in a foreign airport. (Though the pizza we had there, at a remote little shop, was the best of the whole trip!).
We were dead. Never flying Air Italia again too, after we were stuck on our plane for 2 extra hours, just waiting to take off. To this day we don’t know what all that was about. But we made it back safely, and came home feeling more grateful than ever. For our trip, our new marriage, and our free wifi.